Legislative watchdog asks Illinois state lawmakers for $920,000 to investigate state lawmakers

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The independent Legislative Inspector General is asking Illinois lawmakers for a budget of nearly $1 million to investigate lawmakers.

If investigation costs end up exceeding that, she said she would have to go back to lawmakers for more.

It’s budget season at the statehouse. State agency officials are pitching their proposed budgets during virtual hearings. Two budget requests heard Wednesday in the House were the Legislative Ethics Commission and the Legislative Inspector General.

The proposed budget for the Legislative Inspector General is $920,000 with $100,000 of that set aside if there’s a need to hire a court reporter for any contested cases in front of the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope said it’s unlikely they’ll spend that amount.

“It’s just not predictable and we wouldn’t want to be in a position where we didn’t have the resources if we had an important, complex investigation that we needed to conduct,” Pope told the committee.

Pope said the overall $920,000 budget is really for just in case.

“We just can’t predict it though because you can’t foresee the future, what’s going to walk in the door, what’s going to come in as an allegation, how complicated is it, how many people do you have to interview, how much cost is expended in travel to interview your witnesses and that type of thing,” Pope said.

If a major investigation were to arise and the office runs out of money, Pope said they’d have to return for a supplemental appropriation to continue.

“But if it’s not at the right time, that’s right, I wouldn’t have the funds to do the investigation,” Pope said.

Pope said she wasn’t familiar with such an instance in the office’s 17-year history ever happening.

In the past year, Pope said the pandemic cut down on the number of investigations.

Quarterly reports show there were 50 allegations in calendar year 2020, but just 8 investigations were initiated. Five cases were referred to other law enforcement agencies while 12 were referred to another investigatory body.

In calendar year 2019, quarterly reports show there were 29 allegations and 12 investigations initiated. Two cases were forwarded to a law enforcement agency while 9 were referred to another investigatory body.

Last year was also the first year the office’s budget was separated from the Legislative Ethics Commission’s budget.

“Now I don’t report [spending] to them, I do monthly reconciliations with the comptroller’s office, but I’m an independent agency and being treated as an independent agency now,” Pope said.

The change was prompted by an Auditor General finding the 17-year-old office independent. Three of those years up to 2017, the office was vacant with allegations going uninvestigated.

While Pope doesn’t report budget issues to the Legislative Ethics Commission, she does have to get permission to move forward with most investigations from the bipartisan panel of lawmakers. The Legislative Ethics Commission must approve investigations and approve the publishing of any findings.

The Legislative Ethics Commission has a separate proposed budget of $312,500.

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